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Generations of women: Stories of business owners throughout the years

Throughout the past few decades, the climate for women business ownership has dramatically improved, especially in Iowa.

Before the Women’s Business Ownership Act passed in 1988, women couldn’t receive bank loans without a male co-signer. Just six years ago, in 2013, Iowa was ranked the worst state for women business ownership, according to the State of Women-Owned Businesses Report. In 2018, after strong efforts from organizations across the state, Iowa jumped into the top-10 as one of the best states for women business ownership.

From struggling to receive a bank loan in the early 1980s to the troubles of finding a place to lease, it’s clear women business ownership has come a long way. Hear from three NAWBO Iowa members and their stories of starting their own businesses throughout the years.

Pam Schoffner, P.S. Writes (1979)

Schoffner was working for the state when she earned her big opportunity. She had a connection with a woman at Meredith Corp., who wanted Schoffner to write for an upcoming catalog project. Schoffner got to work in the evenings and on weekends, dancing around her full-time employment obligations.

The final product was met with praise — and more opportunities.

“She contacted me and said this went around our department without any red pen marks,” Schoffner said. “She asked me to write two more catalogs, and for four months of work I would take in the same income I was getting from my current job.” 

From there, P.S. Writes — named after Schoffner’s initials — was born. Her former employers contracted her to do other writing projects and the business started to grow. But in 1979, when Schoffner started her business, women business owners struggled to find legitimacy.  

“People thought women were doing this to occupy their time until they had children,” Schoffner said. “It was just a hobby. The credibility wasn’t there.”

Schoffner initially worked from home — on an IBM Correcting Selective typewriter, a Herman Miller chair and a homemade desk — but strived to find an office to lend herself some credibility. A few years later, when Schoffner went to receive a loan for a new word processor, her husband had to co-sign at the bank, which was a common roadblock for women in the 1980s.

Today, Schoffner has operated P.S. Writes for 40 years, and the climate for women business owners has substantially improved — not just in perception and policy, but with women themselves.

“Women have much more confidence today,” Schoffner said. “They have confidence moving forward and tackling things. They are willing to take on debt, willing to improve themselves, and that’s a big change.”

Cassie Sampson, East Village Spa (2008)

Sampson graduated from message therapy school and earned a college degree in the healthcare field, but she struggled to find the right fit in the workforce — hours, workplaces and benefits just didn’t seem to suit her.

So, Sampson decided to go out on her own.

It started with an independent spa in Des Moines’ East Village in 2007. But Sampson wanted a more social work environment. In 2008, she opened East Village Spa, which 10 years later has grown into a new building and 25 employees.

When Sampson opened her business in 2008, the economic recession struck the nation and, with little business background, Sampson struggled to find a space to lease.

“I don’t know if it was because I was a woman or that I had limited business experience or that I was a message therapist,” Sampson said. “But I was lucky to find one person who was willing to take a chance so I could start my business.”

The space wasn’t ideal, but it allowed Sampson to get her business, which was entirely self-funded, off the ground. Growth came, and in 2013, Sampson moved East Village Spa into a new space, which has since been expanded. Sampson just celebrated the business’ 10-year anniversary in 2018.

Sampson is thankful for women like Schoffner, who paved the way for today’s women business owners.

“The challenges of women who came before me, they helped because I didn’t necessarily face those challenges,” Sampson said. “I never had to ask my husband or brother to co-sign something when I needed facial equipment.”

Shana Davison, Aspire Event Management (2018)

Creating events to expand and grow budgets is Davison’s passion.

With a marketing background, Davison had a hand in event management as far back as 2006. In 2017, Davison joined the Iowa Credit Union League as the education events manager. The organization was looking for someone to rehaul its annual convention, and Davison succeeded. That was Davison’s “a-ha” moment.

“Following that, I wanted to do that for other organizations,” Davison said. “I wanted to increase their event revenues, decrease their expenses and put on events their attendees would remember.”

In January 2018, Davison started Aspire Event Management. A year later, Davison’s daughter, who graduated from Iowa State in event management, and another employee manage event planning side of the business while Davison manages client relations and development.

Davison said one of the toughest parts of her business is explaining how well-run and monetized events can actually grow and expand budgets.

“If you hire someone who is knowledgeable in events, they can increase revenues and decrease expenses,” Davison said. “It pays for itself and there’s a benefit as well. Those are my major challenges, really selling those services and educating business owners and staff of the beneficial outcomes.”

Davison continues to grow and focus on client development as Aspire Event Management looks toward the future.

“A whirlwind is probably the best way to describe my experience,” Davison said. “As an entrepreneur, I took my knowledge and my experience and ran with it. I think I was ready… I wanted to be in charge of my own destiny, like so many other business owners.”

Roxanne Pals and her interest in change leads to business ownership

It was in 2005 when Roxanne Pals sparked an interest in change — what it does, how it affects people and how to properly prepare for it.

Pals, who has a nursing background, was working as a clinical nursing manager at Mercy Medical Center North Iowa, and the organization was implementing a dramatic initiative: replacing paper records with electronic medical records.

Despite large-scale preparation, advice from consulting agencies and testing, the implementation went sideways. And Pals was left wondering: Why?

“Everything about how clinicians needed to respond was different,” Pals said. “It was a flip of a switch. We practiced, but in one weekend we flipped the switch and left paper and went to a computer. It made me curious about what happens with people in the midst of change, and why everything looks good on paper but doesn’t go right when you actualize the plan.”

Pals found that change was closely aligned with the grief process, and she implemented some of what she learned into her nursing leadership role. At about the same time, she also finished her master’s degree in servant leadership, which allowed her to look at change through a leadership lens.

In 2006, the learning came together for Pals. She was tasked with leading a culture change at Trinity Health, a national health care organization that counts Mercy Medical as one of its properties. In her role, Pals researched what people needed to flourish in organizations. She stayed in that position until 2013, when she opened up her sole proprietorship, 3 Consulting Inc.

Her consulting business helps companies through large-scale transitions, and her services extend to many different industries.

“What I’ve learned in my research is that humans are humans and change is change,” Pals said. “It doesn’t really matter. I’ve tested my methodology in energy solutions, aviation, government, entertainment and hospitality. I work with organizations that are either planning or putting themselves in the midst of disruptive change.”

With a network that extended globally, Pals traveled to other countries and states to help clients. But being from small-town Lake Mills, Iowa, and having some family obligations to tend to, Pals made the decision to shift her business more regionally.

Pals, who lives in Des Moines, took on her first-ever Iowa client last fall and has established her services in the area. She also started a collaborative group with other business owners with similar services to expand their reach and processes to more people.

As her business continues to grow, Pals is thankful for her newly found local focus.

“It’s been a great ride, and I didn’t network or search for clients until last year when I intentionally made a decision to focus my business more regionally than nationally and globally,” Pals said. “It’s been a fun year of intentionally shifting how I manage my practice.”